Key Learnings from a Massively Multisite Church

In the early 2000s, I started on my multisite journey. In those days, we were just trying to solve a space problem at our growing church. We had some innovative volunteers at our church who asked if they could take the video that we were using to run an “overflow” and host a small group, 45 minutes away from where we were meeting. It was an incredibly simple idea that flourished to the point where I’ve seen thousands of people connected to the churches I’ve served at through this approach to “doing church”.

Since then, I’ve had the honor of being at the forefront of fourteen campus launches. We’ve seen around 1,500 volunteers join our mission and actively work to see those campuses launched. Today, over 9,000 people attend the campuses that sprung from our efforts. It has been a privilege to have a front row seat to this amazing approach to reaching new people with the message of Jesus. Seeing a revolution from the inside gives one a perspective that is second to no other!

As incredible as it’s been to see this movement from the inside, there are some lessons I wished I had known before we started this journey. These facts have been birthed over years of launching different sites and I wanted to share them with you here. These tips will help to save you time, effort and energy as you launch new locations! Lean in on these lessons and you are bound to find a few shortcuts to reaching more people in your community.

I’m still as much of a “fan” of the multisite church approach today as I was all those years ago when I was setting out to launch with so much hope in the first campus. I really do think that every growing church should consider this approach to multiplication. It’s been breathtaking to see this movement in a few churches grow to the point where one in six churchgoers in North America now attend a multisite church! Wowsers! I would have never predicted that back when we started sharing our video with that small group 45 minutes away!

The size and health of your launch core is the critical success factor.

Having watched so many different dynamics associated with these launches up close, I am convinced that the campuses that launch strong have a large and healthy group of volunteers kicking it off. In fact, when I talk with churches who have struggling campuses the problems can often be linked back to a lack of passionate people on the launch team. Moreover, it indicates that the volunteers weren’t trained enough before the campus started.

Yes, you can launch too quickly.

The best volunteers are not early adopters but are, counter-intuitively, the “late majority” folks because they are most likely to stick with the campus long term. The problem with that is that most church leaders are more “innovative” than the people they need to make that campus work. Innovators love the pressure of getting the campus out of the door but the vast majority of volunteers prefer to take time and need to be “wooed” into the process. Once you win these folks over, they will stick and stay for the long haul. Too many churches rush the launch process and miss the opportunity to build long-term leadership teams.

Campus Pastors are hard to find … but are most likely found within.

I wish I could get back all the hours I wasted worrying about where we were going to recruit campus pastors from. There is a clear evidence that campus pastors are being found within the church that is launching the campuses. In fact, 87% of campus pastors are found internally. [ref] This means you should get busy considering that fact that your next campus pastor is most likely already attending your church. Instead of looking far afield for them, invest your energy in identifying them and bringing them up.

It’s not about video-driven campuses.

Too many times people assume that all multisite churches are just pumping video from one campus to others. However, what we’re seeing is the majority of multisite churches are doing some combination of both local live and centralized video teaching. [ref] It’s healthy and good for local campuses to get a chance to teach on a regular basis in “video-driven” multisite churches. (Of course, “regular” is up for discussion and debate.) In churches that do some form of “team teaching” where the campus pastors do most of the communication, it’s valuable to have occasional video messages to keep the church rowing together. The fact is, the bigger the church and the more campuses you have the more video you are going to use among your locations. [ref]

Student ministry is hard in multisite.

At its core, the idea of multisite church is about delivering a smaller and “closer to home” experience. For adults, if there are 150 or 1,500 people in the room, the experience is a close approximation. For most kids, the small group leader is the key to delivering the best experience possible. For students, critical mass matters. If there are 20 people at an event or 100 people at the event, it’s not 5 times better but more like 50 times cooler! This is challenging in multisite because it tends to subdivide your church into small communities. Lots of churches struggle providing student ministry in this approach.

It’s way more financially efficient.

Multiple times over the years I’ve been in the situation where we are building a large box to house one of our campuses; at the same time as working on new “portable” locations. When you do a side by side financial comparisons of “cost per seat” to launch a new “big box” versus launching new campuses, the new portable locations are in an entirely different language on the cost structure. Many churches are driven to launch new campuses rather than build a bigger “box” because the cost structures are just so compelling. In fact, when talking with organizations that build a lot of churches they just aren’t seeing people building the “big box” churches anymore as a direct impact of the multisite movement.

Think Regional not National.

There are a few churches that have used this model to launch campuses across the country. These should be seen as an exception, not a guideline for you to follow. Those churches usually have a uniquely gifted communicator with a national platform that can speak to that audience. Most multisite churches should be thinking about how they can use this strategy to saturate the region they are from. As a rule of thumb, that region usually extends to where people cheer for the same sports teams. First, figure out how to reach people in that region before jumping to national aspirations. (By the way, why do so many multisite churches in the north have campuses in Florida?)

Nail it before you scale it.

You’ll get more of whatever you multiply through going multisite. If you have problems with parts of what you do, those parts will just grow. If there are aspects of your ministry that are full of pain in the process, you’ll just have more pain. Before you head out to launch make sure there is a modicum of health.

Teaching is the biggest “non-issue” long term.

There is a lot of conversation and discussion up front about how to deliver teaching at most multisite churches. Teaching pastors do a lot soul-searching around them being the “face on the screen” all over town. Campus pastors jockey for more stage time and want to get in the saddle and teach. However, long-term this becomes the smallest issue in launching, sustaining, and growing a multisite campus. All of the “people” issues are much more pressing realities in making this approach work. Developing teams, connecting people to the community, raising financial resources and attracting new guests are far more pressing issues for campuses than how you’re going to deliver teaching.

Don’t launch a campus but launch a system for launching campuses.

At last survey, 85% of multisite churches are stuck with less than two campuses. [ref] This is a shame for kingdom impact. These churches have started down the road of multiplication but stalled out. Imagine the impact this movement would have if we could move all of those churches to launch a few more sites! My conviction is that the reason that most churches are stuck at that point is because they just launched a campus or two but didn’t build a system for regularly launching new locations. They need a multisite church launch flywheel to help them in this endeavor!

Small towns are the horizon for multisite.

This movement started in relatively densely populated suburban areas but I’m seeing a new movement among churches reaching small towns and rural contexts. These communities are often places where no viable gospel oriented church exists and so these new multisite churches are leading the way to inject the message of Jesus back into these locations. I look forward to learning from these trailblazing churches in the coming years!

There is no better way to drive engagement at your church than launching new locations.

Campus expansion is a robust way to engage new volunteers at your church. Typically, we’ve seen that 2/3rds of the volunteers in new campuses haven’t served in the church before. I’m convinced that there is no better recruiting tool than to launch new locations. In fact, I haven’t seen anything in all these years that comes close to driving up volunteer engagement at a church than launching new locations. If you are wanting to see more people engaged in what your church does, get busy launching new campuses!

Fall is the best time to launch new campuses.

Generally, there are three windows that we see new campuses publically launch, sometime in the fall, early in the New Year and at Easter. The best time to launch is in the fall because you get a few “growth periods” before that next summer season comes along. The first summer can be a tough time in the life of a new campus as attendance and momentum naturally wane a little bit. When you launch in the fall, you are maximizing your ability to see momentum built before that happens.

Again, the size and health of your launch core is the critical success factor.

I can’t overstate how important this factor is. Your launch process needs to be built around the single factor of building a large and healthy volunteer team. Everything else is secondary to that decision. In fact, I would suggest that every decision during the launch process needs to be made in light of this one overall driving factor. Build a big and healthy team and your campus will thrive for years to come. If your team is small and weak the campus is almost certainly destined to limp for a long time.

Read more from Rich.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rich Birch

Rich Birch

Thanks so much for dropping by unseminary … I hope that your able to find some resources that help you lead your church better in the coming days! I’ve been involved in church leadership for over 15 years. Early on I had the privilege of leading in one of the very first multisite churches in North Amerca. I led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 4,000 people in 6 locations. (Today they are 13 locations with somewhere over 5,000 people attending.) In addition, I served on the leadership team of Connexus Community Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. I currently serves as Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. I have a dual vocational background that uniquely positions me for serving churches to multiply impact. While in the marketplace, I founded a dot-com with two partners in the late 90’s that worked to increase value for media firms and internet service providers. I’m married to Christine and we live in Scotch Plains, NJ with their two children and one dog.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

7 Reasons to Incubate Your Next Campus Launch

In elementary school, one of my daughter’s classrooms held an egg incubator. Over the course of a few weeks, the children learned about eggs and were able to watch their hatchlings emerge. This transparent case, with heat lamp and straw matting, become critical to the life of those little chickens, protecting them from rough handling and carefully controlling environmental conditions until the birds could begin to fend for themselves.

The multisite church movement no longer exists as a revolutionary approach to church multiplication. Campus launching is now standard practice for reaching new geographic areas and extending the gospel impact of congregations large and small. Despite the commonality of this model, it remains helpful to remember that new campuses could also benefit from the protection of an incubator early on. Holding at least two weeks of worship services on-campus at the sending church, alongside existing worship services, can be critical to the development of volunteers, leaders and staff. Carefully controlling environmental conditions in a secondary venue of worship brings benefits to both the team being sent, and those doing the sending.

Here are seven reasons to hold at least two incubator services before launching your next multisite church campus:

To Build Campus Identity by bringing the early adopters all together in worship and establishing the core team’s identity as pioneers months prior to launch.

To Sample Message Delivery by forcing communicators to think through their content and the context of their sermons. If preaching live to each campus, early incubator services help campus pastors practice applying local context in each campus or environment. For video communication, an incubator service serves as a lower-risk way to alleviate the fears of screen-driven sermon delivery.

To Bring Everyone Together by leveraging existing childcare and gathering space, usually a choir room or fellowship hall, at the sending campus. An incubator service may be the only time everyone on the launch team will worship as one body. Once launch happens, ministry volunteering and multiple services dissipate core team connectivity each week.

To See Who’s (Really) In by allowing leaders to get a feel of who is on the team and recruit or steer direction as a result. Seeing everyone in one room, without the immediacy of launch looming, brings cohesion to every one-on-one conversation. Savvy campus leaders will use an incubator to make those elusive personal connections that they have been missing.

To Share Launch Ownership by reminding the entire church body that they are being sent as one to this new frontier, represented by this group of launch pioneers. Minimizing the “them” and “that new church” language must begin as soon as possible. Incubator services reinforce a one church multiple locations mindset before launch even happens.

To Test Parallel Systems by replicating worship service processes in a controlled environment. Developing multiple teams for concurrent worship, delivering technology in a portable setting can be daunting. And while preview services on-site are helpful at debugging systems, incubator services at the sending campus can help everyone know what questions to ask in the first place.

To Train New Volunteers by creating excitement across the congregation. Seasons of launch are a natural time to bring new volunteers to the team at both the sending and multisite campus. Incubator services are effective in providing opportunities to shadow existing volunteers and learn the systems in a known environment.

WHETHER 2018 IS THE YEAR YOU ARE GOING MULTISITE FOR THE FIRST TIME, OR SENDING YOUR SEVENTH CAMPUS, CONSIDER HOLDING ONE OR TWO INCUBATOR SERVICES BEFORE YOU LAUNCH.

AT AUXANO, WE CREATE BREAK-THROUGH CLARITY FOR MULTISITE CHURCH TEAMS THROUGH A UNIQUE PROCESS OF LAUNCH EXECUTION PLANNING THAT FULLY INTEGRATES YOUR UNIQUE IDENTITY WHILE STRENGTHENING A WHOLE-CHURCH VISION. WE KNOW THAT MOST CHURCHES NEED MORE THAN ANOTHER GENERIC STRATEGIC PLAN OR NOTEBOOK OF MULTISITE BEST PRACTICES, AND HAVE HAD THE HONOR TO WORK WITH MULTISITE CHURCHES FROM 200 TO 20,000 DURING SEASONS OF LAUNCH AND GROWTH.

> Read more from Bryan.


 

Connect with an Auxano Navigator to start a multisite conversation today.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Rose

Bryan Rose

As Lead Navigator for Auxano, Bryan Rose has a strong bias toward merging strategy and creativity within the vision of the local church and has had a diversity of experience in just about every ministry discipline over the last 12 years. With his experience as a multi-site strategist and campus pastor at a 3500 member multi-campus church in the Houston Metro area, Bryan has a passion to see “launch clarity” define the unique Great Commission call of developing church plants and campus, while at the same time serving established churches as they seek to clarify their individual ministry calling. Bryan has demonstrated achievement as a strategic thinker with a unique ability to infuse creativity into the visioning process while bringing a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership and passion.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.